Production and Value-Added Processing of Cultivated and Wild-Harvested Elderberries in West Virginia

Progress report for ONE21-393

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,700.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Grant Recipient: West Virginia University
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Dr. Lewis Jett
West Virginia University
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

This SARE Partnership Project will increase knowledge and skills related to elderberry as a cultivated and wild-harvested non-timber forest crop for small farms in West Virginia.  This will be accomplished by:

  1. Twelve cultivars of elderberry including the varieties 'Adams', 'Johns',  'Nova', 'Bob Gordon', 'York', 'Marge', Wyldewood', 'Samyl' and 'Samdal'  are scheduled for planting in April 2022.  In addition, 4-5 varieties from the University of Missouri will be included in the project. 
  2. Evaluating organic and conventional production of cultivated elderberries.
  3. Creating a sustainable supply chain of wild-harvested elderberries that can be replicated in other regions across West Virginia.
  4. Evaluating the economics of (organic- and conventional-grown) cultivated and wild-harvested elderberries in West Virginia.
  5. Expanding the knowledge of landowners and small farmers on elderberry production, value-added processing and marketing as a commercial crop.

 

Introduction:

  An average West Virginia or Appalachian small farm is a patchwork of pasture, riparian bottom land, and woodlots.  Using all components of the farm to produce food and fiber is the formula for keeping small farms viable.  In land area, West Virginia is the fifth most forested state in the United States.  Research, development and promotion of non-timber, woodlot crops will significantly increase farm or landowner income across West Virginia.  Woodlot crops such as ramps, ginseng and elderberries are unique to central Appalachia and can have strong market potential both in and out of state.  Some of these specialty crops have been overharvested from public lands such as the Monongahela National Forest.  Creating a supply chain from private landowners and cultivated production will prevent excessive over-harvest and damage to public lands.

  Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis sp.,) are native perennial fruits to eastern North America and Appalachia.  Throughout West Virginia, there are many native plantings of elderberries which are often adjacent to woodlots, creek banks and other areas of otherwise idle or uncultivated land. The demand for elderberry food extracts and nutraceutical products has dramatically increased in the last 10 years.  Surprisingly. much of the domestic production of elderberries has been in other U.S. regions such as New England and the Midwest  A significant quantity of elderberry extracts and products are imported from Europe. Moreover, there is very small production of cultivated elderberry varieties in West Virginia. Unlike other types of berries (e.g., blueberries. brambles, etc.), elderberries require processing infrastructure to market for consumers.  

   WVU Extension will partner with  Chris Yura, a food entrepreneur, native West Virginian and beginning farmer.  Leasing his family farm in central West Virginia, Chris is investing in processing infrastructure to create new, value-added Appalachian food products with the West Virginia Harvest label.   The farm has successfully aggregated and marketed wild ramps.    The processed product will be elderberry syrup and frozen elderberries which will be marketed through the West Virginia Harvest label.

   WVU Extension is uniquely qualified to research, facilitate and promote production, harvest and value-added processing of cultivated and wild elderberries.  A team of 8 WVU Agricultural Extension Agents with the WVU State Horticulture Extension Specialist and the partner farmer will begin evaluation of cultivated elderberry varieties at the WVU Organic-Horticulture Farm in Morgantown and the partnership farm in Lewis County, WV.    In addition, landowners from 9-counties in West Virginia will be contacted and surveyed to identify native plantings of elderberries for wild harvest.  Each planting site will be mapped and Chris Yura will lease the harvest rights from the landowner.  The yearly wild-harvested production goal will be 1000 lbs.  Superior clones  of wild elderberries will be identified by WVU Extension team members, cuttings taken and germplasm provided to USDA as well as incorporated in the variety trial blocks. This SARE Partnership Grant will create a network of growers who can create a supply chain for a wild-harvested, Appalachian crop.  In addition, superior cultivars of tame elderberries will be identified to supplement wild-harvested production.     

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jody Carpenter
  • Karen Cox
  • Debbie Friend
  • Jennifer Friend
  • Lisa Jones (Educator)
  • Bruce L:oyd
  • Bill Shockey
  • Chris Yura - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:

 

 

  • Field plot evaluation of tame and wild elderberry varieties

   Beginning in April 2022, ten cultivars of American elderberry (Sambucus nigra L. subsp. canadensis (L.) and at least 2 European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) cultivars will be evaluated at two sites in West Virginia. Plantings will be made at the WVU Organic Horticulture Farm in Morgantown, WV (39.6⁰ N. lat).  The site has access to water and fencing to protect against herbivores such as deer.    The second planting site for elderberry cultivar evaluations will be at the 264 acre Hall Farm in Lewis County (39.0 N. lat.), WV which is the farm leased by Mr. Chris Yura, owner and founder of West Virginia Harvest.  The farm is a representative Appalachian farm (264 acres) with some abandoned mine land, meadows, pasture and forests.  The Hall Farm also will have a centralized  processing facility for non-timber forest products such as elderberries, ramps and ginseng,  The partnership farm is very close (5 miles) from the WVU Extension Jackson Mills Facility which serves as a education center for thousands of West Virginians each year.

  Since elderberry is primarily wind pollinated, the rows will be oriented to facilitate air movement across the planting.  A soil test will be taken before planting and any amendments applied either at planting or the fall before establishment.  Each variety will be replicated a minimum of four times and arranged in a randomized complete block experimental design. The planting will be managed organically at the WVU Farm and conventionally at the Hall Farm.  Plants will be spaced approximately 4 feet apart with rows 12 feet apart.  Each planting block will be approximately 0.5 acres in area.  Solid-set irrigation will be used at each planting location.  Data collected will include plant height, vigor, days to harvest, average fruit weight and size, ease of picking, marketable yield and brix (soluble solids) of the fruit.  In the establishment year (2022) the flowers will be removed to encourage vegetative growth and establishment,  A limited, second-year harvest (2023) will be conducted.  In 2024, the planting will be harvested for the full season.  Data will be analyzed using SAS and incorporated into research reports each year.

  • Facilitating a wild harvest supply chain of elderberries in West Virginia

   The WVU Extension Team working on this project will help to identify landowners in eight West Virginia who may have elderberries for wild harvest on their private land.  Using the resources and connections such as the WVU Extension Small Farm Center listserv, Extension Master Gardeners and long-standing, professional contacts with landowners in the state, tracts of land with elderberry plantings will be identified.  A minimum of 30 landowners from 9 northern and central West Virginia counties (Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis, Ohio, Preston, Randolph and Upshur Counties) with wild elderberry plantings will be identified each year of this project.  Based on personal communication with Terry Dunham from River Hills Elderberry Cooperative, at least 1000 lbs. of elderberries harvested per year would justify the capital expense of a mechanical washer/destemmer (T.E.D. Destemmer).  Interested landowners will then have the option of leasing the rights to harvest elderberries and other non-forest timber products from their land from Chris Yura (i.e., West Virginia Harvest).  The landowners will be given a royalty from West Virginia Harvest based on the final yield and fair market value of the products.  With permission from the landowner, the elderberry site(s) will be GIS-mapped; the planting area size measured (ft2); and multiple-harvested by either the landowner or employees of West Virginia Harvest. An assessment of the planting vigor, days to harvest, harvest frequency, berry size, harvestable yield and fruit brix will be made by WVU Extension Agents, Chris Yura and cooperating landowners involved in this project.   If the planting has unique horticultural traits, hardwood cuttings will be taken in late winter, established in the greenhouse and the plants subsequently planted in the cultivar trial for long-term evaluation. Germplasm will also be provide to the USDA Corvallis Lab for future breeding projects.

   Inputs associated with conventional and organic elderberry production will be recorded to generate enterprise budgets.  Harvest labor for the wild plantings will be recorded as well as other production and marketing costs.  Both cultivated and wild-harvested production systems will be evaluated for profitability over the two years of this project by creating enterprise budgets for each production system..

   Chris Yura will process the wild-harvested elderberries to create value-added elderberry products (e.g., syrup and juice) with the West Virginia Harvest label.  River Hills Elderberry Cooperative is very interested in purchasing wild-harvested and cultivated elderberries and may be a future wholesale market outlet for the elderberries harvested in West Virginia.

  • Elderberry production, harvest, postharvest handing and processing education and training

   To expand interest and knowledge related to elderberries in West Virginia, a series of workshops detailing all aspects of growing elderberries as a specialty crop will be conducted.  As part of the West Virginia Small Farm Conference, elderberries will be presented as a small fruit track and Patrick Byers, University of Missouri Extension, will be am invited speaker.  On-farm workshops at the farm in Lewis County, West Virginia will serve as a site for elderberry processing and production demonstrations.  Observing how elderberries can be wild-harvested and established as a cultivated crop will be discussed.  Workshops devoted exclusively to value-added processing will be conducted each year.  Chris Yura will demonstrate postharvest handling and value-added production such as syrup and juice production and freezing elderberries.  Other local producers will be invited to demonstrate or discuss how elderberry products such as tinctures, jams, wine or supplements can be created using either the certified kitchen at the Hall Farm or the WVU Jackson Mill facility.  The WVU Morgantown planting site will have an annual, late summer field day which will showcase organic elderberries as a potential specialty crop.  A minimum of 200 participants will be surveyed over the course of this 3-year SARE Partnership Grant to determine if their education and skill related to growing, harvesting, value-added processing and marketing elderberries has increased.  

 

Table 1.  WVU Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Agent Collaborators and Partner Farm.

Name

County

Jodi Carpenter

Barbour

Debbie Friend

Braxton

Lewis Jett/Chris Yura

Gilmer

Jennifer Friend

Harrison

Bruce Loyd

Lewis

Karen Cox/Lisa Jones

Ohio

Bill Shockey

Preston

Jodi Carpenter

Randolph

Tasha Harris

Upshur

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

2 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

   WVU Extension is uniquely organized to create and extend information across West Virginia and beyond.  Output from the SARE Partnership Grant will include printed and digital fact sheets, videos, workshops, field days and conferences.  WVU Extension Communications is able to create fact sheets as well as short-subject videos which are placed on the  extension You Tube channel.  Am elderberry production and marketing fact sheet will be created.  In addition, WVU Extension has jointly created fact sheets with the University of Kentucky Center for Crop Diversification which reaches a wide audience of farmers in Appalachia. Videos which detail such activities as planting,  pruning and harvesting elderberries will be created from this project.  Value-added processing activities will be recorded and posted on the elderberry playlist within the WVU Extension You Tube channel.  The WVU Jackson Mill Extension Center which is adjacent to the Partnership farm (Hall Farm) will serve as a facility to host workshops or classroom-style presentations and serve as a doorway for a wide audience of extension educators who come to the Center for diverse conferences.      

   Approximately eight workshops, meetings and tours will be conducted at the Hall Farm and the WVU Organic Horticulture Farm over the course of this project duration.  Attendance will be open to the public from Appalachia. The WVU Extension Small Farm Conference is held each year in Charleston, WV and has an attendance of nearly 500.  The attendees are eager to learn new information on specialty crops.  In 2023 there will be an elderberry track featuring Mr. Patrick Byers from the University of Missouri and Terry Dunham from River Hills Elderberry Cooperative in Missouri.  Each session will be recorded and made available to the public through the WVU Extension Small farm website. Popular press publications such as the West Virginia Farm Bureau News and the West Virginia University Extension Small Farm Advocate Newsletter, in which Dr. Jett is a regular columnist, will be excellent publications for sharing results of this trial as well as recruiting interested landowners with native wild elderberry plantings.

 

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.